Have you ever come upon something in a surprising place?

I have – just yesterday, as a matter of fact.

I found myself driving through the historic neighborhoods of the Encanto district in downtown Phoenix, yesterday morning.  I had just finished up a landscape consultation in the area and I decided to take some time and drive through the neighborhoods and admire the homes in the historic district.  

My goal was to see if I could find the home that my grandparents owned in the 1940’s.  While I didn’t find the home, I did see a house that not only made me stop my car – I had to get out for a closer look.

What first drew my eye was this parking strip (also known as a ‘hellstrip‘) between the sidewalk and street.  It was filled with a bounty of flowering annuals and perennials.

I could believe that this was growing just blocks away from the skyscrapers of downtown Phoenix. 

I whipped out my phone and started to take pictures.  While the California poppies, red flax and plains coreopsis caught my eye, in the background I noticed the old, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum where the Arizona State Fair is held every fall.

As I made my way up the planting bed, I saw more colorful, annual flowers intermixed with globe mallow, ‘Thundercloud’ sage and red yucca.

One flower that I did not expect to see growing in the desert, not to mention downtown Phoenix, was larkspur with its deep purple spikes.

Multi-colored bachelor’s button flowers grew among scarlet flax and plains coreopsis.

As I stood admiring the effect that all these flowering plants had on the street landscape, I happened to meet the son (James) of the owner of the house.  He was busy working out in the garden and he was flattered at my interest in this space that he had created.

Last fall, James took 3 packs of wildflower seeds (multiple varieties) and threw them on the bare parking strip, added some compost on the top and watered well.  Then he watched them come up and even he couldn’t believe how beautiful they were.

It just goes to show you that wildflowers are easy to grow and thrive on neglect.

He then offered to show me what he had done to the backyard and I couldn’t wait to see it after seeing what he done on the outside.

(A few of the following photos are a bit blurry.  I’m not sure what went wrong with my phone’s camera, but you can still get a sense of the beauty in the backyard.)

The backyard consisted of a lawn, which was split in two by a large planting bed filled with hollyhocks.

I love hollyhocks and always have some growing in my garden.  They self-seed and flower for me every spring.  All I give them is a little water – that’s all they need.

The small patio in the back of the house was filled with an old-fashioned table and chairs – it fit the age of the home perfectly!

The pathway that separated the two lawn areas and led to the garage in the back, was created using concrete molded in to geometric shapes.

Bermuda grass was allowed to grow into the cracks for an interesting look.

The patio was edged with flowering annuals and yellow daisy (Euryops pectinatus).

In this blurry photo, a large crown-of-thorns plant was thriving in a tiny container.  Believe it or not, it is 20 years old and is seemingly thriving in a very small pot.  According to James, he waters it twice week in summer and weekly throughout the rest of the year.

Two Chinese elm trees provided dappled shade on this beautiful spring’s day.

A small potting bench stood in front of the wooden fence that had been painted a greenish-chartreuse color, which blended in well with the garden.

A fountain stood in the center of this grassy area, adding the refreshing sound of water.

I could just imagine how relaxing it would be to enjoy this outdoor space, even in the middle of summer with all of its shade.

As I bade a reluctant goodbye to the hollyhocks, we then ventured back out to the parking strip and James then showed me that he had planted wildflowers next to the detached garage.

Bright pink and vibrant orange – doesn’t that remind you of the 70’s?

These tall poppies were planted from 3 year-old seed that James was going to throw out.  I’m certainly glad that he decided to plant them instead.
While old seed won’t germinate as well as young seed, you’ll often still get some seeds to sprout – just not as many.

Poppies always have a spot in my garden.  I have red poppies with black centers that come up every year from seed.  They grow in my vegetable garden where they get the extra water that they need.

It is unexpected surprises like this that make life interesting.  This garden was fairly small, but beautifully tended to.  Ironically, most of what was growing in it, grew from seed with little effort.


Easter is always a busy time in our family.  After church in the morning, we all gather at my mother’s for a delicious dinner and more importantly, the Easter egg hunt for the kids.

My granddaughter, Lily, was really getting the hang of finding the eggs.

But, even the big kids were able to find a lot of eggs too!

Here I am posing with my sisters (I’m the one in the middle).  While we don’t plan to take photos together, we always seem to get one of the three of us together every Easter.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter holiday!
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

8 replies
  1. Patti
    Patti says:

    Thanks for sharing the gorgeous wild flowers in the historic downtown area. My newlywed daughter has planted wildflower seed packets about their little historic home. I was surprised how fast they came up and I can't wait to see them bloom!

  2. deb
    deb says:

    Great photo of you 3, and the Phx garden is absolutely beautiful. I'm going to have to get on the wildflower bandwagon next year – a little late now for this year in Tucson, I fear!

  3. Tempest Devyne
    Tempest Devyne says:

    Thank you so much for taking and posting these pictures. I'm just starting out learning to garden in Phoenix (though I used to garden in the UK)…when I first moved here I was so disheartened by the lack of variety of plants people have in the gardens….I thought it was things couldn't be grown here (I miss my herbaceous borders and wildflowers) but having started growing veg here in a keyhole garden I'm realising that there are so many things I can try, and though keeping them alive in the summer maybe massively difficult, spring, autumn and winter are highly under utilized to bring beauty into drab brown landscapes. I am most definitely going to buy some packets of wildflower seeds and do as James has ready for next Spring….and the hollyhocks have seriously challenged my adventurous gardening side. Thank you.

  4. dryheatblog
    dryheatblog says:

    Nice megapost:-)

    Finding gardens like that means even more to me as a renter, now. Same thing…a yard up the street with birds of paradise and larkspurs…who would guess? Nice to see some tough older plants and natives…ideas coming to me.

  5. Felicity Sanderson
    Felicity Sanderson says:

    Oh my goodness, I love to see your granddaughter, Lily, finding eggs with this Easter egg hunt! After scrolling through some of the pictures of your backyard in the middle of your blog, I just love how fresh, open, and inviting your yard is with that patio and water fountain back there. The flowers really accent the fresh feeling too, and I can only imagine how refreshing it would smell with all of those wildflowers out there! Where exactly did you find your wildflower seeds? I've been thinking of planting some in my backyard this summer!


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